Friday, February 28, 2014

2-for-1 Crock Pot Recipes for Cuban Beef Stew

Cuban beef & potato stew
I grew up enjoying this kind of stew, called Carne con Papas in Spanish, lovingly cooked by my Cuban mother on the stove. I've adapted her traditional recipe to come up with a version for the crock pot or slow cooker. My crock pot Cuban beef stew has become one of my husband's favorite cold-weather suppers, and it's also received glowing praise (and requests for seconds & leftovers) from friends who have joined us for dinner.

I hope you and your family will give this a try, as well as the variation which uses Calabaza (West Indian pumpkin, similar to hubbard squash) and hot peppers for a slightly spicier but not too hot stew.  You can make the calabaza version without the hot peppers & spices if you prefer, using bell pepper and ground black pepper as in the original recipe.

I'm currently mulling over yet another variation for this recipe, using smoked paprika and a little bit of chipotle powder or chipotle paste, or possibly some dried chilies in place of the regular paprika and fresh peppers. If you try your hand at a version of this beef stew with those smoky ingredients, please do leave a comment below to let us know how it turned out.

4 large potatoes, cut into 2" chunks (I prefer unpeeled but you can peel)
2 1/2 to 3 lbs beef stew meat*
2 Tbs olive oil (preferably Spanish olive oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large bell pepper, finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large (or 3 small) dried bay leaves
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup dry sherry**
1 cup water or beef stock
1/3 cup Spanish capers packed in brine, drained
Generous 1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw), plus a little more (thawed) for garnish

Carne con papas
*I've also used venison, with just as good results. The meat should be cut into approx. 1" to 1 1/2" cubes. To save time, I usually don't brown the meat before adding to the crock pot, but you can certainly do so in the same pan you sauteed the vegetables.

**Please don't use "cooking sherry." If it's not good enough to drink, you shouldn't cook with it. You'll get much better flavor in recipes if you use even a low-end dry sherry instead of the swill that's passed off as "cooking sherry."

Heat the olive oil & bay leaves in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, peppers & garlic and saute until softened. While that's cooking, you can chop the potatoes and place in crock pot, followed by the stew meat unless you're going to brown the meat first. If you're going to brown the meat, add to saucepan as soon as the vegetables have softened and quickly brown the meat on all sides (you may want to raise the heat to medium high for a quick sear).

Add meat and sauteed vegetables to crock pot, followed by the paprika, salt, ground pepper, tomatoes, sherry and water or stock. Gently stir if needed, then turn crock pot to High and cook until meat & potatoes are tender, about 5 to 6 hours, stirring only once or twice at most (I generally wait until the stew has cooked on High for at least 3 hours before stirring). When you have about 30 minutes to an hour of cooking time left, stir in the capers, parsley and peas (except the portions reserved for garnishing), then cover and continue to cook until done. Note: You can also cook this on Low simply by doubling the cooking time but still adding the final 3 ingredients towards the very end. Serve in bowls and top with a little chopped parsley and a sprinkling of peas. Makes about 8 hearty servings, and tastes even better when reheated the next day (store leftovers in refrigerator). This stew also freezes well.

Carne con calabaza
Spicier Variation with Calabaza (Caribbean/West Indian pumpkin):
Substitute an equal amount of peeled & cubed Calabaza or Hubbard squash for the potatoes
Substitute 2 Cubanelle peppers & 1 Poblano pepper for the bell pepper
Substitute hot paprika for the mild paprika
Substitute cayenne powder for the black pepper

Using calabaza or Hubbard squash instead of potatoes adds a subtle, mellow sweetness to the stew, and the deep orange hue of the squash adds appealing color. Follow the same cooking instructions as for the original recipe above. Makes the same amount of stew, and also freezes well.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best-Selling Smoker Woods & BBQ Grill Accessories for 2013

Onward Grill Pro 00200 Mesquite Wood ChipsThe calendar might still say winter and the thermometer reading may be hovering around freezing, but that doesn't stop hard-core BBQ enthusiasts from firing up their grills and barbecue smokers. For those of you who aren't cooking outdoors until the weather warms up, now is the time to check on the condition of your grilling & BBQ tools and accessories, and to stock up on wood chips, grilling planks and other supplies you'll need for barbecue season.

Before you spend any money, however, I recommend you start by checking out the top 5 best-selling grill accessories and smoker supplies for 2013 at the Carolina Sauce Company:

1. Grill Pro Mesquite Wood Chips are properly aged chips of genuine mesquite wood, the smoker wood of choice when you want to give your smoked brisket, beef ribs, chicken or other meats that authentic, robust southwestern flavor. When only Texas style barbecue will do, or when you want to experience the "big daddy" of smoked flavor, choose mesquite! Mesquite chips are also great for grilling hamburgers, lamb, pork and even venison - just be careful not to overdo it with milder meats and poultry, because mesquite smoke is strong stuff. Grill Pro Mesquite Chips come in resealable bags holding 170 cubic inches of real mesquite wood chips.

2. Grill Pro Cherry Smoker Chips will infuse your meats and poultry with delightfully bright, fruity notes of real cherry wood. Fruit woods like cherry are often the pro's choice with venison and other game meats, and cherry wood chips also add wonderfully mellow, medium-smoke flavor to pork loin, ribs, chicken, lamb and anything else you choose to grill or smoke. As with the mesquite wood chips, Grill Pro Cherry Wood Chips come in resealable bags holding 170 cubic inches of real cherry wood.

Nature's Cuisine NC010 14 x 5.5 Cedar, Alder, Maple, & Hickory Grilling Planks, 4 Count
3. Assorted Grilling Planks 4-Pack: Plank grilling is a simple and convenient way to add subtle wood flavor to fish and seafood, chicken, leaner meats, and vegetables. Very popular in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., cedar plank grilled salmon), cooking on wood planks is catching on throughout the country as a healthier cooking method (you use less oil or fat) -- which no doubt explains why this four-pack of assorted wooden planks for grilling was our 3rd-best selling BBQ accessory. The pack comes with four 14" x 5.5" planks, one each of Cedar, Alder, Maple & Hickory, plus instructions and recipes.

4. Smokehouse Alder Grilling Planks:  Grilling on a plank of alder wood imparts your food with a magnificent combination of robust but not overpowering smoke flavor plus light and mellow notes of vanilla that add a subtle natural sweetness. These planks are made from 100% natural Pacific Northwest Alder wood, which is hard to find in other parts of the country. Alder wood is ideal for poultry and game birds, pork (leaner cuts like loin), vegetables and fish.

5. GrillGrates are an award-winning, raised-ridge, nonstick interlocking grilling surface that fits on virtually any grill for picture-perfect, tastebud-tantalizing grilled food every time. GrillGrates amplify any heat source to facilitate infrared grilling, block flare-ups while retaining juices, even out grilling temperatures to prevent hot spots, and give you those attractive sear marks that are otherwise elusive for most grillers except the pros. They make an ideal Father's Day gift or any other occasion gift for anyone who loves to cook on their BBQ grill. Find the right GrillGrate for your grill when you click here.

Zestfully yours,

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Very First Brown Stock (and Most Definitely NOT My Last)

Beef stock recipe
Making stock is one of my favorite ways to spend a rainy Saturday indoors. I've made my own poultry stock for years, freezing "picked" chicken & turkey carcasses along with uncooked necks & wings & backs until I had at least 2 to 3 pounds' worth of bones and parts, then spending the better part of the day simmering them with vegetables, herbs & spices until reduced to liquid gold, then measuring into 2-cup & 1-quart containers for the freezer, to be used in recipes over the following weeks.

Despite my experience with poultry stock, I had never made beef stock or broth -- much less a true brown stock made from oven-roasted meaty beef bones -- until recently. I had several excuses, including a lack of beef bones and a fear of roasting the raw, meaty bones without charring them. Buying half a cow earlier this year eliminated my first excuse, as there were two parcels labeled "soup bones" among the many packets of meat we received from the butcher. Having recently depleted my stash of frozen chicken stock and lacking poultry bones in the freezer, I decided to take the plunge and make brown stock from the beef bones. Thankfully, my fear of over-roasting proved to be unfounded and the resulting brown stock was a smashing success, albeit a two-day process.

I began by reading about brown stock in one of my favorite cookbooks, received as a wedding present over 25 years ago and still one of my go-to references in the kitchen: Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook. The following recipe is my adaptation of the Basic Brown Stock recipe found on page 110 of that book. The main difference is that I used only beef bones, rather than a combination of beef bones, veal shanks and chicken wings. Although it did take the better part of a Saturday and an additional hour on Sunday to make brown stock from scratch, it was well worth the time and the work involved as the flavor was far superior to that of any canned or boxed beef stock. And because I used meaty bones from grass-fed "de facto" organic beef (not certified organic because the rancher is a very small operation & can't afford the costs of organic certification), there was very little fat to skim off.

A note about my stock: I prefer a vegetable-enriched stock, which is by necessity cloudy rather than clear (see photo above). Instead of discarding the vegetable chunks after straining the simmered broth, I pressed them into the sieve with the back of my metal pot spoon to extract a puree that I stirred back into the soup, leaving the outer onion skins and other fibrous matter in the sieve to be discarded along with the picked bones. Speaking of the bones, I picked all the meat off them to save for other uses, including heating it up with some BBQ sauce for sandwiches or a quick meaty snack. When picking the meat off, be sure to discard any cartilage and fat along with the bones.

Without further ado, here is how I made my very first (and definitely not my last) beef brown stock:

3 1/2 to 4 lbs meaty beef bones, cut into pieces
2 medium onions, unpeeled* and cut into quarters
3 small but thick carrots, peeled & cut into chunks
2 cups water
4 1/2 quarts water
1 large stalk celery (including leaves), cut into chunks
1 leek, washed well, trimmed & cut into chunks**
Several large sprigs of parsley (I used 7 or 8, including stems)
1 heaping tsp dried thyme (you can substitute a few sprigs of fresh thyme)

*According to Rodale's, leaving the onions unpeeled will add a subtle sweetness and depth of color to the stock. I cut the root end off the onion quarters and removed any dirty outer skin before placing the unpeeled onion pieces on the roasting pan.

**Leeks are notorious for trapping dirt and grit at the base of the leaves. Be sure to rinse thoroughly under running water, especially after trimming & cutting into chunks - I usually discover more hidden dirt after cutting, requiring further rinsing.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread bones in a large (18" x 12") roasting pan and roast for an hour to 1 1/2 hrs, until nicely browned but not burned or charred, turning occasionally for even cooking -- I turned every 15 minutes. When you think you only have 30 more minutes of roasting left, add the onion & carrots to the roasting pan and continue roasting for half an hour. Here's what my roasted beef bones and vegetables looked like when done:

roasted beef bones for stock

When the bones are deep brown and aromatic, transfer them and the roasted vegetables into a large stock pot (at least an 8-quart pot; mine is a 12-quart stock pot). If there is a lot of grease in the roasting pan, carefully remove the grease using a spoon or turkey baster or syringe, leaving the juicy drippings and crusty bits -- you can see in the photo above that my beef bones did not render much grease at all, so I did not have to remove any.

Position the roasting pan over at least one burner (mine covered 2 burners), turn the burner(s) on to low-medium heat and carefully pour in the 2 cups of water, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up the caramelized bits stuck on the bottom of the pan -- this is called deglazing, shown below. It will take a few minutes to unstick and dissolve all the caramelized juices & bits but it is well worth it as they are packed with flavor and will add delectable complexity (can you say "umami?") and robust depth to the stock.

deglazing for brown stock

While the roasting pan is deglazing, wash the parsley thoroughly and add it to the stock pot together with the thyme, chopped leek & celery. Once the pan is deglazed, turn off burner(s) and carefully pour the pan juice into the stock pot. Add the rest of the water to the pot, stir and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to keep at a very low simmer. The photo below on left shows the "fully loaded" pot prior to bringing to a boil.

making brown stock
Simmer for at least 6 hours, skimming off any foam that forms at the surface during the first 30 to 60 minutes of simmering. The ideal low simmer has no more than a handful of bubbles gently breaking the surface every 2 or 3 seconds. As the stock simmers, it will reduce in volume so you probably will need to reduce the burner heat gradually to keep the stock from simmering more vigorously or boiling. It's best to allow the stock to simmer undisturbed, without any stirring, so as to allow any froth or fat to rise to the top for easier removal once ready to skim and strain. The photo below on the right shows the gently simmering stock prior to skimming and straining. If you look closely you can barely make out the few bubbles towards to top-right of the photo.

After a good 6 hours or so of simmering, skim off any "scum" or froth from the surface and strain the stock through a fine strainer or sieve into a large bowl or another pot. Reserve the bones for picking off the meat when cool to the touch, and then puree the vegetables as noted above if you want to enrich the stock with the pureed vegetables; Otherwise, simply discard the vegetables. Cover the strained stock and refrigerate overnight -- this will allow the fat to solidify at the top, making it easy to remove the next day.

The following day, remove the solidified fat from the surface of the chilled stock, then ladle the stock into smaller containers for freezing or refrigerating, e.g., 2-cup or 1-quart containers. You should end up with about 2 quarts of very rich, highly concentrated, deep brown stock, as shown in the very first photo at the top of this blog post. To use for soup or as a broth, dilute with equal or slightly greater amounts of water. Note: I do not season the stock with salt or pepper, and this helps to avoid over-seasoning when using the stock in recipes that call for salt and/or pepper. Feel free to season your stock to taste if desired prior to storing in refrigerator or freezer.

Zestfully yours,

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Collegiate Hot Sauces from Arkansas State, Cincinnati & Memphis!

Arkansas State Red Wolves Hot Sauce
March Madness is right around the corner, and the Carolina Sauces online store has added three new collegiate hot sauces just in time.

Arkansas State Red Wolves Hot Sauce proudly sports the university's colors and the label is emblazoned with its fearsome wolf's head logo. This hot sauce is officially licensed by Arkansas State University, and is a great way to show your school spirit while adding zesty, peppery flavor to all your favorite tailgating and game-day party foods. Enjoy this all-natural cayenne pepper sauce in your homemade hot wings recipe, in hearty chili, on nachos, pizza or fried chicken, and with anything else that could use a kick.

Cincinnati Bearcats Hot Sauce
For fans of the University of Cincinnati, we now have Cincinnati Bearcats Hot Sauce, which is also officially licensed to bear the school's name, logo and colors. The bold black label is eye-catching and striking in its rarity -- very few hot sauces have a black label -- and the stylized C "pawprint" logo really stands out. Inside the bottle you'll find a tangy, tasty Louisiana-style hot sauce with straightforward aged cayenne pepper flavor and fire. This versatile, all-natural hot sauce adds just the right amount of food-friendly heat to wake up any savory dish, especially all the appetizers and snacks you like to enjoy while cheering for your favorite team.

And last but certainly not least, we're happy to announce Memphis Tigers Hot Sauce, brought to us with the official "blessing" of the University of Memphis. Like all our other collegiate hot sauces, this one is made with natural ingredients and gets its classic flavor and fire primarily from aged red cayenne peppers. Medium in heat with a pleasantly savory vinegar tang, you can enjoy this all-purpose hot sauce on pretty much anything and everything except dessert and sweets. From bloody Marys to Buffalo wings, burgers and fries to chips and dips, nachos and tacos to pizza and bratwurst, they'll all get a welcome wake-up call when you splash on some of this hot sauce. The school colors and pouncing tiger logo will proclaim your allegiance to the Tigers, too.

Our collegiate hot sauces are ideal for showing off team pride and school spirit. They make excellent graduation gifts as well as holiday stocking-stuffers and any-occasion gifts for students, faculty, staff, alumni and other fans. You can browse our entire selection of officially-licensed college & university hot sauces, all of which are currently on sale, when you click here.

Zestfully yours,

Monday, February 24, 2014

Simple & Zesty Octopus Salad (2 Versions!)

Octopus salad
My octopus salad recipe is extremely easy and very flavorful, and you can give it Spanish/Latin American flair or a Greek-Mediterranean twist simply by changing a couple of the ingredients.

I use tinned octopus in olive oil, which is very popular in Spain, Cuba and the Mediterranean. You can find it in the same shelf area as sardines, anchovies, smoked oysters and other such canned seafood. If your regular grocery store doesn't carry canned octopus in olive oil, check any specialty-foods stores, Latino tiendas or Middle Eastern markets in your area if you have them.

Both versions of the following recipe make 2 to 4 servings depending on whether you serve the octopus salad "as is" with crackers or crostini or pita wedges, or as the topping to a mixed-greens or wilted spinach salad.

2 4-oz tins of octopus (pulpo in Spanish) in olive oil, undrained
1 large Roma tomato, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 to 3 mini sweet peppers*, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Juice of half a lemon
Opt: 2 cloves roasted garlic, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

ensalada de pulpo
For the Spanish/Latin American version, add:
1/4 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives or Spanish olives
2 Tbs diced roasted red peppers (called pimientos in Spanish)

For the Mediterranean version, add:
1/4 cup sliced Greek or Mediterranean olives or black olives
1/4 cup (or more to taste) crumbled feta cheese

*For a spicier salad, you can substitute a small hot chile for one of the sweet peppers, e.g., a red or green jalapeno pepper or a serrano pepper for the Spanish version or a peperoncini (pickled is fine) for the Mediterranean version. Unless you're a glutton for searing heat, however, I don't recommend using a habanero or other super-hot pepper because it can overpower the other flavors in the salad.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir gently until thoroughly combined. Serve as is for an appetizer with crackers, crostini or pita wedges, or over salad greens or lightly sauteed spinach.

Zestfully yours,

Sunday, February 23, 2014

If You Want Carolina Sauce Coupons, Read This

Carolina Sauce Company coupons
Do you like barbecue sauce? How about hot sauce and spicy snacks?

Does zesty salsa float your boat? Do you crave great-tasting seasonings & better-than-supermarket condiments?

And what about saving money and getting a bargain?

Then you're in luck: We're having a VIP coupon sale at the Carolina Sauces online store!

If you're a member of our VIP Club, you received our February newsletter a few days ago with your special VIP coupon for an additional 5% off our already-reduced sale prices. In the newsletter you also got the scoop on our newest products, including all-natural southwestern-style salsas, a versatile Latin American 3-pepper vinegar pepper sauce, a delightful Italian tomato sauce with a touch of "fiesta" flavor, and cheesy-tangy-spicy potato chips.

Click to join our VIP Club
If you aren't a Carolina Sauce VIP, it's not too late to cash in on the exclusive coupon sale and try these zesty new products: Just sign up here for our VIP Club and you'll automatically receive a welcome coupon when you confirm your membership, and I'll personally send you a copy of our February newsletter!

Our VIP Club is completely FREE and you'll receive only one (1) email a month, which will be our monthly VIP newsletter containing a VIP-only discount coupon or other exclusive special available only to our VIPs. As a VIP you'll get our biggest, best discounts, available only to our VIP Club members. And should you ever wish to unsubscribe (although I really would hate to see you go), you can do so anytime quickly & easily and we honor all such requests without any further emails. For more information about the Carolina Sauce VIP Club and newsletter, click here.

Any questions? Need help signing up? Simply email me and I'll be more than happy to help.

Zestfully yours,

PS: Our special limited-time, VIP-only coupon for February expires at the end of the month, but you can sign up anytime and you will automatically receive a valid welcome coupon as soon as you confirm your free VIP subscription.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pumpkin Soup with a Caribbean Twist

Pumpkin soup sopa de calabaza
The following soup recipe is based on traditional West Indian and Caribbean sopa de calabaza, or pumpkin soup, except that my version is vegan and vegetarian, while most traditional recipes call for chicken stock and heavy cream. My version therefore is lighter and healthier with a lower fat content. If you are not vegan or vegetarian, you can use chicken stock in place of the vegetable stock for a deeper, richer soup that's still not too heavy on the fat because there's no cream.

Calabaza, or West Indian pumpkin, is a winter squash with bright orange flesh and a hard, usually green and deeply ridged rind. The flesh or pulp is more dense and less sweet than that of American pumpkin. You can find calabaza either whole or cut into more manageable chunks at Latino, Caribbean, West Indian and other specialty or ethnic markets. You can sometimes find frozen calabaza puree in such stores, which will save you the work of cutting, peeling and cooking the squash. I highly recommend using calabaza for this soup if you can find it.

If true calabaza is not available in your area you can substitute Hubbard or kabocha squash. If you can't find either of those, then use American pumpkin as a last resort. Canned pumpkin puree can be used only if it is not "pumpkin pie filling," i.e., it must be 100% pure pumpkin puree without any other ingredients and definitely no sugar or other sweetener.

I've provided two cooking methods for my Caribbean pumpkin soup: One starts with whole or cut squash, and the other uses pureed squash.

1 1/2 to 2 lbs calabaza squash (West Indian pumpkin) or 1 lb puree
2 Tbs olive oil
Flickr photo by Julia Manzerova
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 medium carrot, peeled & finely chopped
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, seeded & finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
5 cups vegetable stock (you can substitute chicken stock for non-vegetarian soup)
1/2 cup white wine (I recommend a Riesling or similar not-too-dry wine)
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

If using whole or cut squash: Peel the squash and cut into small cubes. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, hot pepper and bay leaves. Saute until the onion is just translucent. Stir in the squash cubes, thyme, oregano and cinnamon, then saute until the squash begins to soften. Add parsley, stock & wine, bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the squash is fall-apart tender when pierced with a fork or pressed against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon. Puree the soup using a stick blender, taste for balance and season with salt & pepper to taste.

If using squash puree: Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, hot pepper and bay leaves. Saute until the onion is translucent and the vegetables are tender. Add the remaining ingredients except the salt & pepper, stir to combine thoroughly, and bring to a simmer. Cook at a simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are fall-apart tender when pressed with the back of a spoon. Puree the soup using a stick blender, taste for balance and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Bufalo Chipotle Salsa Picante
If desired, sprinkle with a very light dusting of ground cinnamon or ground cayenne.

Makes 6 servings as a starter, or 4 hearty "meal size" servings.

Zestfully yours,

PS: For an earthy, smoky variation of this recipe, use smoked pumpkin (you can cook calabaza, Hubbard or kabocha squash on your smoker using the same method as regular pumpkin), and instead of cayenne powder, use chipotle powder or even some chipotle hot sauce, such as Bufalo Chipotle Mexican Hot Sauce, but be careful not to make the soup too hot or overly spicy (start with just a little bit of chipotle and then add more to taste if desired).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Best-Selling Meats & Cheese at Carolina Sauce Co. for 2013

Chile Cheese Dip
Sure, our name might be Carolina Sauce Company, but we're not just another seller of zesty sauces and condiments: We also offer a delectable selection of unusual, hard-to-find and full-flavored meats and cheeses ranging from specialty bacon and spicy beef jerky to imported cheeses and peppery cheese dips. Here are our top-selling meat and cheese products for 2013:

1. Crazy Jerry's Hot 'n Chili Cheese Dip is a velvety blend of creamy cheeses with just enough fiery chili peppers, savory spices and ripe tomatoes to deliver a big, bold flavor that will have you coming back for more. Perfect for dipping all sorts of chips, crackers, pretzels, carrots, celery sticks or even bread cubes, you can also pour this hot and spicy restaurant-style chile cheese dip over nachos, burritos, tacos and even breakfast eggs, hash brown potatoes and sausage. Try it on hot dogs and hamburgers as a cheesy topping with a peppery kick!

Bone Suckin Jerky
2. Bone Suckin' Beef Jerky is a high-quality, all-natural, high-protein snack made from real American beef and boasting the flavors of one of America's most popular barbecue sauces, Bone Suckin' Sauce. A favorite among hikers, back-packers, athletes, students, and anyone looking for a healthy, satisfying snack that's lightweight, nutritious and full of rich flavor, the mouthwatering savory-sweet flavor of this beef jerky is incomparable. It's a great item to include in care packages, Christmas stockings and gift baskets, and to keep in your pantry or desk drawer for those times when you don't have time to prepare a midday meal or go out to lunch, or you just need a handy pick-me-up.

3. Bacon & Bacon Gifts: Through our wonderful partner Bacon Freak, we're thrilled to be able to offer a huge variety of bacon ranging from traditional cuts to gourmet, flavored, and nitrite-free bacon, plus a mind-boggling array of bacon gifts including bacon gift boxes, bacon bundles, bacon-themed novelties, bacon-scented cologne and toiletries, bacon t-shirts and other apparel, bacon cookbooks, and pretty much anything else bacon-y that you can imagine.

4. Blair's XXX Sudden Death Beef Jerky is for serious chileheads with a penchant for meat, and for adventurous carnivores who get a thrill out of fiery foods. Protein-rich dried beef is generously seasoned with super-hot peppers including red habaneros, cayennes and the ultra-hot Red Savina. But that's not all: savory herbs and spices add complementary "steakhouse rub" flavor for a deliciously devilish snack that will satisfy your taste buds as well as your craving for fiery heat.

Blair's Death Beef Jerky
5. Blair's Original Death Beef Jerky is similar in flavor to Sudden Death Beef Jerky, but not nearly as hot, which broadens its appeal and makes it more practical as a backpacking, camping or hiking snack when water and liquids might be at a premium. If you enjoy hot and spicy snacks and are ready to feel alive, treat yourself to a bag of this spicy, savory-sweet and protein-packed meaty snack. One bite and you'll wish you had gotten more -- so plan ahead and order several bags while they're on sale at the Carolina Sauces online store!

Zestfully yours,

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Greg's Spicy BBQ Bacon Cabbage

spicy barbecue bacon cabbage
Anyone who thinks that thin, tangy vinegar barbecue sauce from North Carolina is only good for pulled pork, aka Carolina pork BBQ, is sadly mistaken and missing out on some mighty good eats.

And I not referring to using NC vinegar barbeque sauce as a marinade for chicken or a seasoning for collard greens, although those are perfectly fine ways to use the sauce.

No, I'm talking about the following recipe created by Greg on the fly, when we had too much cabbage on hand and no desire to make or eat slaw. Although he usually just "eyeballs" the quantities and throws everything together without measuring, I finally was able to persuade him to weigh the cabbage, count the bacon strips and pour the BBQ sauce into a measuring cup so that I could post his recipe for spicy BBQ Bacon Cabbage here. Feel free to adjust the ingredient quantities to suit your taste and preferred spiciness. Sometimes Greg adds one or more of the optional ingredients, depending on what we have in the refrigerator. But the basic recipe is more than good enough without any of them.

1 large cabbage, approx. 2 lbs
5 strips bacon, chopped into 1" pieces
2/3 cup vinegar-based NC barbecue sauce*
Optional: A little (1 Tbs to 1/4 cup) finely chopped onion
Optional: 1 small hot pepper or 1 Tbs to 1/4 cup chopped sweet/bell pepper
Optional: Freshly ground black pepper to taste

cabbage with NC BBQ sauce & bacon
*Use either an eastern NC vinegar BBQ sauce like Wells Hog Heaven, or a thin vinegar & tomato Piedmont/Lexington (western NC) barbecue sauce like the original Bone Suckin' Sauce or Jim's Own Homestyle or Hot Bar-B-Q Sauce. You don't want to use a thick tomato-based barbecue sauce in this recipe because it's too sweet and doesn't have enough vinegar, and is likely to scorch (plus it won't taste right). The less tomato in the NC BBQ sauce, the better for this recipe.

Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove & discard core and then slice the cabbage into thin strips. Cook the chopped bacon in a pot large enough to hold all the sliced cabbage. When bacon is fully cooked, add the sliced cabbage (and onion and/or peppers if using) to the pot and stir to combine. Yes, you'll be cooking in the bacon grease -- I never claimed that this recipe would be low in fat. Once the cabbage is nicely coated with the bacon grease, stir in the barbecue sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until cabbage is tender. Taste for balance and add a little more BBQ sauce if you want a more tangy flavor, or black pepper if you want a spicier heat. Serve hot, and refrigerate any leftovers (they're tasty either reheated or cold from the fridge). Makes about 6 servings, or fewer if you can't stop eating it.

Zestfully yours,

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Top 10 Best-Selling Marinades & Dressings for 2013

Walkerswood Jerk Marinade
Well-made, high-quality marinades, dressings, cooking sauces and other specialty sauces like steak or brisket sauces are a convenient way to add gourmet or home-made flavor to meals with little effort or expense. The Carolina Sauce Company offers a wide variety of such sauces, dressings and marinades, all at reasonable prices and in a range of heat levels and array of American and international flavors. The following list has the top ten best-selling marinades, dressings and specialty sauces for 2013:

1. Walkerswood Spicy Jamaican Jerk Marinade is one of Jamaica's most famous exports. This authentic jerk marinade complements and tenderizes all types of red meats and poultry, infusing them with the zesty, exotic and spicy flavors of Jamaica. You can also use it to marinate fish, shellfish and vegetables prior to cooking or grilling. For red meat and poultry, marinate in your refrigerator for several hours or overnight. For seafood and vegetables, up to an hour of refrigerated marinating will suffice.

2. Busha Browne's Spicy Hot Pepper Sherry is an old-fashioned concoction of real sherry in which chili peppers have been steeped to infuse the sherry with peppery heat. This pepper sherry is perfect for making Bull Shots (a hot and boozy beef bouillon drink that will warm you up on winter evening), Bloody Marys and other savory cocktails, or for adding depth to soups, stews, marinades for meats, homemade brown sauces and more.

Ole Ray's Blackberry Wine Cooking Sauce
3. Ole Ray's Blackberry Wine Cooking Sauce is a magnificently mouthwatering gourmet sauce that is sure to impress family and guests, and have them wondering when you found the time to attend culinary school. Wonderful with all sorts of beef and pork cuts, it's also a natural with venison, wild boar, game birds and the like. Delightful as a rib glaze when applied during the final few minutes of smoking or grilling, you can also marinate, grill, baste and sauce with it in the kitchen, at the grill and at the table sauce.

4. Walkerswood One Stop Savory Sauce is like a traditional American steak sauce, but with a refreshingly different, spicy, lightly fruity tropical twist. Bananas and mangoes team up with the usual raisins to add body and brightness, while nutmeg, thyme and Jamaican allspice pair up with tamarind, scallions and other similar ingredients regularly found in steak sauce. The result is a deep, multidimensional and appealingly complex richness that complements steaks, roasts, pork loin, beef brisket, rotisserie chicken, venison tenderloin and other hearty fare as well a breakfast favorites like eggs, potatoes and sausage.

5. Bone Suckin' Yaki Sauce is a North Carolina original that blends Asian teriyaki sauce with tangy tomato-vinegar barbecue sauce for a fantastic fusion of flavors that brings out the best in anything you marinate, baste, grill or cook in it. It's finger-lickin' good on chicken, ribs, shrimp and veggies, and you can use it for stir-fry dishes, as a steak sauce, in ground beef dishes or burgers, and more. Your imagination is the only limit!

Tobago Keys Peruvian Gold Grilling Sauce
6. Ole Ray's Steak & Brisket Sauce delivers the flavors of Texas barbecue to your table whenever you're craving them. Although it was created specifically to complement and enhance the flavor of slow-smoked beef brisket, this sauce is also excellent with London broil, pot roast, pork loin, venison, and other similar red meats. You can even dress up your burgers or meatloaf with it, or dip your french fries and other finger food in it instead of ketchup.

7. Tobago Keys Peruvian Gold Grilling Sauce is a sweet and sassy mustard sauce with tropical hot peppers and savory spices for a rich Caribbean flavor that will enhance everything from pork and beef to chicken, seafood, vegetables and even rice & beans. You can marinate with it, bake and broil with it, splash it on sauteed or grilled veggies, brush on kabobs or ribs during the last few minutes of grilling, and play with it in the kitchen, too.

8. Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon Original Steak Sauce is a classic American steakhouse style sauce that's spiked with a healthy splash of real Jim Beam bourbon whiskey from Kentucky. The bourbon adds deep notes of caramel and wood for a rich roundness of bold yet mellow flavor that brings out the best in any type of steak, from the most expensive cuts to the most affordable. Turn an ordinary hamburger into a $12 steakburger simply by dressing it up with this gourmet condiment. Or add it to ground beef recipes including meatloaf, sloppy joes, sliders, and more.

Pickapeppa Sauce
9. Pickapeppa Brown Sauce is another traditional Caribbean brown sauce like our fourth-place sauce, but with a little more tang, a little less heat, and greater depth of deep, dark, savory flavors. Mangoes add a hint of subtle tropical flavor for a subdued exotic elegance that will impress even the most discerning, well-traveled palates while also pleasing simpler tastes and youthful palates. Enjoy it the same way you'd use any other steak sauce or meat condiment, as well as in place of ketchup for dipping onion rings or fries or dressing up burgers or scrambled eggs.

10. Tobago Keys Coral Ridge Seafood Sauce is a zesty tropical alternative to tartar sauce for fish, shrimp and other seafood. Creamy but not heavy, with a good amount of habanero heat without being overpoweringly hot, and pleasingly tangy-savory but not tart, this mayonnaise-based sauce is wonderful with seafood prepared any way: breaded and fried, broiled, sauteed, baked, grilled, poached, etc. Try it on fish tacos, on salmon burgers or stirred into tuna salad and other mayo-based salads for a delightful change of pace!

Zestfully yours,

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Gloria's "Fancy" Slaw

verjus slaw
I call this a "fancy" slaw not just because of its delightfully vibrant colors but also because it uses verjus instead of vinegar. Verjus is the unfermented pressed juice from unripe grapes. Not as acidic as vinegar, with a nuanced, less strident flavor, it is considered more "wine friendly" and an excellent substitute for vinegar in dishes that will be served along with wine.

You can exchange verjus for vinegar in most recipes for dressings, marinades, salads and the like. Because it is less tart, I find that I can omit the sugar normally called for in cole slaw and similar recipes without missing it -- and this makes the recipes better-suited for low-carb and low-sugar diets.

You can buy verjus online from one of our partners, or you might be able to find it at a specialty foods shop in your area. Otherwise, you can simply substitute vinegar in my recipe for fancy slaw -- but then it won't be as "fancy." Either way, it's a tasty side to serve with barbecue, burgers, hot dogs, grilled or fried fish or chicken, and any other time you want coleslaw with your meal

1 1/2 lbs red cabbage*
Verjus du Perigord-25.35 oz.2 lbs green cabbage*
2 carrots (approx. 6 to 8 oz total)
1 1/2 cups verjus
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbs celery seeds
1 Tbs poppy seeds
1 tsp dried dill weed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

*The exact amount of cabbage isn't as important as making sure the flavors are balanced for your taste preference. I measured the cabbage by weight before chopping, and my "eyeball" guesstimate from the results is that this produced about 10 cups of chopped cabbage.

Use a food processor to chop the cabbages and carrots -- alternatively, you can finely shred them to make a shredded slaw. If you don't have a food processor, you'll need a sharp knife, a cutting board, and lots of patience.

Place the chopped or shredded vegetables in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl to make the slaw dressing, then pour over the vegetables and stir until thoroughly combined. Taste for balance and then adjust to taste (e.g., add a little more mayo or verjus or any of the seasonings). For best flavor, cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours or overnight before serving. Makes a lot -- and it keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

Monday, February 17, 2014

Top 10 Best-Selling BBQ Rubs & Seasonings for 2013

Bone Suckin' Seasoning Rub
Whether you're smoking a rack of Memphis style dry ribs or a Texas brisket, grilling some chicken or putting a roast in the oven, seasoning a steak or adding a dash of savory flavor to French fries, spicing up a stew or sprinkling a touch of zestiness on vegetables.... our list of best-selling rubs and seasonings is a great place to find the right spice blend to wake up your food and tantalize your taste buds. Just click on any product name below to place your order on the Carolina Sauces website or for more information about that product:

1. Bone Suckin' Rib Rub is our best-selling barbecue dry rub, and it's proudly made in North Carolina using only the finest natural ingredients. It's gluten-free, has no MSG, and it's Kosher, too! But just as importantly, it tastes great with a sassy, slightly spicy balance of savory and sweet notes from brown sugar, paprika, garlic, onion, chiles and more.

2. Bad Byron's Butt Rub is a Texas style BBQ rub that's savory, not sweet (it's sugar-free and has no carbohydrates). Equally delicious on any cut of beef or pork, it's an excellent choice when smoking low and slow, or when grilling on high heat, because it won't burn like sugary rubs will. Butt Rub is also great with chicken, shrimp, vegetables and fish. If you can't get enough of Bad Byron's, you'll be thrilled to know that we also offer this zesty dry rub in 24oz containers.

3. Dave's Chile Today Hot Smoked Habanero Powder is fiery-hot and richly earthy with deep, smoky flavor like chipotle but with the stronger heat and unmistakably bright, citrus-like notes that are common to habanero peppers. You can use this ground habanero powder in any recipe calling for a ground dried chili powder if you want to bump up the heat level and add a touch of smokiness.

Stubbs Bar-B-Q Spice Rub
4. Stubb's BBQ Spice Rub is made in Texas by one of the most famous names in Texas barbecue. Enticingly savory with just the right balance of peppery heat and earthy smoke, it's all-natural and has no sugar. Ideal for all types of beef including brisket, ribs, roasts, steaks and burgers, it also pairs well with poultry, pork and game meats like venison.

5. Habanero Seasoning From Hell is a seriously hot and fiendishly flavorful blend of habaneros and other fiery chilies, plus a secret blend of savory spices along with garlic and onion. This dry rub and all-purpose seasoning stands out from the crowd not only because of its heat and flavor, but because it has no sugar and also no salt! If you're on a low-sodium or salt-restricted diet and need a no-sodium seasoning blend for barbecue and other cooking or for use at the table, this is the one for you (assuming you enjoy hot and spicy foods).

Dave's Habanero Powder
6. Dave's Chile Today Extra Hot Habanero Powder: When ordinary red pepper or cayenne are simply not hot enough, this super-hot ground habanero powder is what you need. Select habanero peppers are picked at their peak of tropical flavor and heat, carefully dried to preserve their characteristic bright flavor, and then ground into a fine powder that you can use in any way you'd use a ground chili -- but with the caution and respect that habanero peppers warrant. This is pure, unadulterated dried ground habanero without any fillers, additives or other spices or seasonings (no salt or sugar, either).

7. Bone Suckin' HOT Seasoning Rub is the spicier, hotter version of our top-selling BBQ rub. Made with the same combination of savory and sweet all-natural ingredients, the only thing different is the heat level, which is hot by North Carolina standards but probably more of a medium-hot using a more general heat scale. And just like the original, this hotter dry rub delivers big, bold, food-friendly flavor that complements all sorts of meats and poultry as well as heartier varieties of seafood (e.g., tuna, salmon, mackerel, shrimp) and vegetables.

Ghost Dust
8. Ghost Dust Pure Ground Naga Jolokia Powder is for experienced, hard-core chiliheads and fiery-foods fanatics who consider the mighty habanero a mere hot pepper for ordinary people. As the name states, this is 100% pure dried ground ghost pepper powder (the ghost pepper is also called the naga jolokia or bhut jolokia pepper, as all serious heat-eaters know). Use with discretion and extreme caution, and in very small quantities.

9. Gator Hammock Gator Sprinkle is made in Florida using locally grown hot peppers and a zesty blend of complementary spices plus just the right amount of salt for a moderately spicy (but not flaming hot) and pleasantly savory all-purpose rub. Use it to season everything from chicken and red meat to shrimp and fish, plus rice dishes, vegetables, popcorn, French fries, and even the flour or breading you use for making fried chicken or fried fish.

Mary's Cherry Rub
10. Mary's Gourmet Cherry Rub is new to our annual best-sellers list but is well-known among barbecue and grilling enthusiasts. A delectably sweet, medium heat BBQ rub that's made with real cherry flavor, natural smoke, brown sugar, savory spices and other all-natural ingredients, it's delightful on anything you grill, smoke, roast, slow-cook, bake or barbecue.

Zestfully yours,

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Egyptian Style Beef Liver (You'll Never Say No to Liver Again)

Egyptian liver
If you are a die-hard liver hater who is nevertheless reading this blog post, to you I say THANK YOU for being open to the idea that there might be a way to make liver palatable to you.

I also want to assure you that once you taste this richly spiced liver recipe, your negative opinion of liver will be a thing of the past.

Yes, it is THAT good.

On the other hand, if you happily eat liver with peppers and onions, or smothered with gravy, or breaded and fried, or in traditional family or ethnic recipes, but have never tasted Egyptian style liver, I think you will be quite pleased to discover a tastebud-tantalizing new way to enjoy this highly nutritious meat.

Egyptian style calf liverMy version of Egyptian style beef or calf liver is based on an authentic recipe for Egyptian liver and my attempt to recreate the wonderful flavors in an amazing liver appetizer we had at an Egyptian restaurant in Greensboro, NC (the restaurant version is shown on the right). According to the author of the online recipe, spiced fried liver chunks are a popular street food in Egypt. The exotic yet approachable seasonings are reminiscent of those of other Middle Eastern cuisines as well as some Indian dishes, and the tender texture of the liver is incomparable. Be sure not to overcook the liver, however, or else it can get tough. And don't be daunted by the list of ingredients -- the recipe itself is actually quite easy.

4 Tbs olive oil
1 lb beef or calf liver, chopped*
Recipe for Egyptian beef liver
Cooking the liver
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 hot chile peppers, seeded & minced
2 Tbs ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley

*It's easier to chop the liver while it is at least partially or mostly frozen. One-inch chunks is a good size, or you can cut it into strips if you prefer. The restaurant version was very thinly sliced and yet succulent and tender.

Saute garlic, onion and peppers in olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat (I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven). When vegetables have softened and onion is translucent, add the liver and all the spices (but not the lime juice or parsley). Saute until the liver has changed color, being careful not to overcook. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until liver is just done, about 12 to 15 minutes (or less time if thinly sliced), stirring once or twice. When liver is cooked through and tender, stir in lime juice and parsley to thoroughly combine. Serve immediately -- Egyptian liver is wonderful with pita bread or rice for sopping up the savory sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Top 10 Best-Selling Jamaican Jerks & Curry Sauces for 2013

Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning
If you enjoy the distinctive, exotic and fiery flavors of Jamaican jerk cooking and Caribbean style curry, the following list of best-selling sauces and seasonings is a great place for you to find some intriguing new sauces to try -- or just click on any product name to restock on an old favorite or two (they're all currently on sale, by the way.

1. Walkerswood Traditional Jamaican Jerk Seasoning, Hot & Spicy (10oz) is by far the top selling Jamaican jerk product we carry, no doubt because it's made in Jamaica using a time-tested traditional recipe and the finest local, all-natural ingredients. Slather it on meats, poultry or seafood and marinate in your fridge for a few hours or overnight (but no more than an hour for seafood), then grill, broil, bake, roast or cook on the stove to experience genuine Jamaican cooking at home.

Walkerswood Jonkanoo Sauce
2. Walkerswood Seriously Hot Jonkanoo Sauce is named after a popular street festival held in Jamaica, and its feisty, jaunty spices and peppers capture the puckish playfulness and enticing sensory experience of this Caribbean carnival. This is a classic Jamaican hot pepper sauce reminiscent of the flavorful and fiery hot sauces found on dinner tables at homes and in restaurants throughout the island.

3. Walkerswood Spicy Jamaican Jerk Marinade takes all the work out of cooking Jamaican recipes calling for jerk spicing. Simply pour this spicy, tangy and authentic jerk marinade over meat, chicken, seafood or vegetables, then marinate in your refrigerator (no more than one hour for fish or seafood, up to overnight for meats & poultry) and cook any way you like. It's a favorite of folk who like to use their smoker or BBQ grill and want to enjoy the flavors of Jamaica in a penetrating, tenderizing marinade.

4. Walkerswood Mild Jamaican Jerk Seasoning: As the name suggests, this is the milder, less peppery version of our top-selling jerk seasoning. But don't worry, the richly aromatic flavors are just as intense as with the hot & spicy version; it's simply much tamer on the heat scale. This jerk paste or wet rub is a favorite of people who appreciate Jamaican cuisine but have a low tolerance for spicy heat. It's also a great way to introduce the flavors of Jamaican jerk to kids or anyone unfamiliar with this cuisine.

Busha Browne's Jerk Rub
5. Busha Browne's Authentic Jerk Seasoning: Don't be deceived by the dainty little jar -- it contains an intensely concentrated and deliciously complex authentic jerk seasoning made in Jamaica by one of the best-known brands. A little goes a very long way with this wet rub, and it will penetrate meat, poultry or seafood to infuse it with magnificent Jamaican flavor. Not quite as hot as our number 1 jerk product, it's also more savory and sugar-free, making it ideal for low-carb diets and anyone watching their sugar intake.

6. Busha Browne's Spicy Jerk Sauce is a zesty table sauce that conveniently lets you add a splash of Jamaican flavor and heat at the table or in recipes. Some people even like using it in their Bloody Marys or tomato juice! Made with raw cane sugar and tomatoes, its mellow sweetness nicely balances the savory herbs and spices as well as the peppery heat for a delightfully tasty, medium-heat sauce that will complement virtually anything except dessert.

Walkerswood One Stop Savory Sauce
7. Walkerswood Jerk BBQ Sauce is unlike any other barbecue sauce I've ever tried, with a spunky peppery heat and a cheerful touch of tropical flavor from bananas (yes, bananas are the main ingredient!). No, this Jamaican BBQ sauce doesn't taste like bananas -- the fruit adds natural sweetness and thickness of body without overwhelming the other ingredients and flavors, for an overall taste that's clearly barbecue sauce but with a pleasantly sweet and slightly exotic flavor that hints at its Jamaican roots. Slather it on during the final few minutes of grilling or smoking, and use it in meatloaf or on burgers as you would any BBQ sauce.

8. Walkerswood Zesty Caribbean One Stop Savory Sauce is a traditional Caribbean brown sauce that's quite similar to a classic American steak sauce, but with more of a peppery kick and a hint of tropical fruit flavor. Use it on everything you'd use a steak sauce on, including steaks, burgers, pork chops, brisket, roasts and other red meats.... but it's also superb with grilled or roasted chicken, as well as with shrimp, fish, vegetables, rice & beans, and in soups, stews and casseroles.

Walkerswood Las'Lick Jerk Sauce
9. Walkerswood Las'Lick Jerk Sauce is a moderately spicy (mild-medium), savory-sweet all-purpose table sauce to enjoy on any dish that could use some Jamaican flair. Similar to our 6th place sauce, it's a little bit sweeter and finishes with the familiar warm flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg. It's a lovely, lightly exotic counterpoint to the robust flavors of grilled or smoked meats, roast chicken or turkey, hearty red beans & rice, meat patties, fried fish or shrimp, and other substantial comfort foods.

10. Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning, 9.25 lb tub:  This is the "food service" size of our top-selling jerk product (the mild version is not available in this large container). But it's not just for restaurants or caterers -- it's a great way to save money when you're planning a large get-together, tailgate party, cookout or the like. And it's also an excellent choice for any family that cooks Jamaican favorites on a regular basis, because it's got such a long shelf life even after the tub is opened.

Zestfully yours,

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cinnamon-Rum Guava Delight

Cascos de guayaba con queso crema
Happy Valentine's Day! If you want to surprise your beloved with a deceptively simple dessert that's lusciously voluptuous and seductively exotic, try my cinnamon-spiced, rum-kissed version of a classic Cuban dessert. Granted, it may not be the most beautiful dessert to look at, but its true beauty is in the richness of the tropical flavors and the interplay of the different yet complementary textures.

Cascos de guayaba con queso crema, or guava shells (halves) in heavy syrup with cream cheese, is a popular treat and simple dessert enjoyed by Cuban families for generations. You can find cans or jars of guava shells at Latino grocery stores, specialty food markets, and sometimes even at large supermarkets in metropolitan areas with a significant Mexican, Caribbean or Latin American population.

Ingredients for cinnamon-rum guava delight
I grew up eating Goya brand canned guava halves (shown on far right), which are usually a deep brick red in color and about the size of very large peach halves. When all the local stores were out of the canned guavas, I found a large jar of Mexican guavas in heavy syrup (shown in first photo on right). The Mexican guavas were yellow in color and much smaller, about the size of little apricots of plums. They were also whole, which meant I had to slice them in half and remove the tiny seeds in the middle (similar to tomato seeds, but hard and crunchy like pomegranate seeds - don't worry, if you miss some they're edible although annoying). The flavor was equally good for both varieties of guavas, so either will work for my Cinnamon-Rum Guava Delight. For ease of preparation, however, I recommend the already halved & seeded canned guava shells.

I recommend preparing the guavas either early in the morning or the night before to let them "steep" in the refrigerator all day or overnight, and then assembling the dessert right before serving. The spiced guavas will keep for days in the fridge and can also be enjoyed over ice cream, warm brie, cheesecake, bread pudding, sliced pound cake, and even with hot cereals like oatmeal. Although the following recipe serves 4, you can serve two "double-size" servings if you're feeling especially decadent. You can also double the recipe for 8 servings.

1 can large guava shells OR 1 1/2 cups small (Mexican) guava halves
All of the heavy syrup from the canned guava OR 1/2 cup heavy syrup from the jar of small guavas
1/4 cup dark spiced rum (I use Kraken brand)
1 large (at least 2" long) cinnamon stick
1/2 package (8oz) cream cheese

Place all ingredients except the cream cheese in a sauce pan or small pot and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and keeping at a simmer, for 20 to 30 minutes -- the longer the guavas simmer, the deeper the cinnamon flavor will be. (In the photo below, the small Mexican guavas are shown on the left and the larger canned guavas are shown on the right.)

guava shells with cinnamon & rum

Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, cut the cream cheese into 4 even slices or 2 large chunks if making only two servings, and place in individual small bowls. Remove cinnamon stick from refrigerated guavas and discard. Spoon spiced guavas and syrup over the cream cheese in the bowls, then serve.

Zestfully yours,